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Friday, May 19, 2023

Murray's 23 Point Fourth Quarter Lifts Nuggets to 2-0 Lead Over Lakers

Jamal Murray scored 23 of his game-high 37 points in the fourth quarter as the Denver Nuggets--who trailed by as many as 11 points in the third quarter--defeated the L.A. Lakers 108-103 to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Murray started the game slowly, and it is often true that the NBA is a first quarter league--but fourth quarter points become very significant when the game is close down the stretch, and Murray nearly matched the fourth quarter scoring output of the entire Lakers team (23 points). Overall, Murray shot 11-24 from the field while grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing for five assists.

LeBron James led the Lakers with 10 assists and four steals. He also had nine rebounds and two blocked shots. However, pro basketball's all-time career scoring leader scored just 22 points on 9-19 field goal shooting, including 0-6 from three point range; when James' three point field goal attempts outnumber his free throw attempts (four) that is not a good ratio for the Lakers.  James' basketball IQ is widely praised, and it does seem like he has a photographic memory regarding details of plays that happened in basketball games--but if he is so smart then why does he keep jacking up three pointers when, at least at this stage of his career, he is a lousy three point shooter? The contrast between his efficiency on shots in the paint versus his shots from beyond the three point arc suggests that a James three pointer may be the dumbest, least efficient shot that the Lakers can attempt.

Austin Reaves also scored 22 points, and he added five assists. Rui Hachimura finished with 21 points on 8-10 field goal shooting. Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 14 rebounds and four blocked shots, but he scored just 18 points on 4-15 field goal shooting. 

It is a good thing for the Lakers that they "found something" in game one that would make a difference in game two. Otherwise, they would have never "held" Nikola Jokic to 23 points, a game-high 17 rebounds, and a game-high 12 assists. Yes, Jokic shot just 9-21 from the field, but the defensive attention that he demanded opened up opportunities for all of his teammates, most notably Murray. If Jokic's name were Curry then we would be hearing about Jokic's "gravity." Instead, after game one the media narrative was that the Lakers could shut down Jokic by using Hachimura as Jokic's primary defender. The narrative after game two will probably be that the Nuggets "held serve" and that the Lakers are in great position to tie the series with two home wins (the Lakers may very well tie the series, but they still must win at least one game in Denver to advance, so objectively they are not in great position unless they take a 3-2 lead heading back to L.A. for game six). After the Nuggets win this series, the narrative will be that the Lakers would have won it all if only they had traded Russell Westbrook sooner so that the "tremendous trio" the Lakers acquired for him had more time to build chemistry.

The Westbrook trade has given Coach Darvin Ham remarkable roster flexibility. He can bring Jarred Vanderbilt off of the bench to score zero points in 10 minutes--Vanderbilt's role in the Lakers' game one loss to the Nuggets--or he can start Vanderbilt and then pull him from the lineup after Vanderbilt has a -10 plus/minus number in just 17 minutes in game two. D'Angelo Russell's brilliance has been so breathtaking that it is difficult to know which statistic to look at first: maybe you love the -41 plus/minus number for the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, or perhaps you prefer the laser-like precision of his 7-19 (.368) field goal shooting in those two games. Ham has the option of keeping Malik Beasley on the bench for the whole game, or inserting him in the lineup if either team obtains a 20 point lead. Clearly, my assessment of the Westbrook trade was way off target. I wrote, "Beasley and Vanderbilt are solid rotation players, but it is bizarre to state with a straight face that trading away a future Hall of Famer who always plays hard for a gunner and two solid rotation players represents a significant upgrade." Beasley played himself out of Ham's rotation, and Vanderbilt has played less than 20 minutes in each of the Lakers' past seven games--including four games during which he played 11 minutes or less--so I was wrong to call Beasley and Vanderbilt "solid rotation players" because their own coach does not view them that way. 

The "experts" told us that the Lakers need "lasers" (as James refers to great outside shooters), so it is wonderful for the Lakers that their masterful midseason moves provided them with more lasers than possessed by NASA and the U.S. military combined. Never mind the Lakers' 8-30 (.267) three point shooting in game two; if you take out James' fine 0-6 three point shooting the rest of the Lakers shot 8-24 (.333) from three point range, and that is the kind of marksmanship that delivers championships. 

It's not like Murray is running circles around all of the Lakers' guards because of his superior basketball talent and athleticism, nor should one foolishly assume that having a 6-3 athletic guard who always plays hard and who pushes the ball in transition to create easy scoring opportunities would have helped the Lakers in this series. Who needs Russell Westbrook when you can get rid of him and have James fire up three pointers, Russell miss from all areas, Vanderbilt hesitant to shoot from anywhere, and Beasley available for those crucial garbage time minutes? Not only do the Lakers have just the right kind of roster to win a playoff series against an elite team, they are well positioned for the future; as soon as James retires, Anthony Davis, D'Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Jarred Vanderbilt are going to rule the league for the next 10 years.

Postgame press conferences across the sports universe provide unintentional comedy. You have to love the reporters who grill Davis and James with tough questions that begin with phrase like, "Not to make excuses for you..." It is not necessary to make excuses for Davis and James; they are quite proficient at making up their own excuses without any assistance. Also, if you are a journalist and the best question that you can ask begins with "Talk about..." then maybe you should consider a different career: the players and coaches do not need to sit in front of room full of journalists to be asked to "talk about" the game; the players and coaches could just show up and start talking without any prompting if that is the best prompting they are going to receive.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:05 AM



At Friday, May 19, 2023 8:01:00 AM, Anonymous Eric said...


Awesome recap. At this point, your running takes on the historic trio the Lakers acquired for Westbrook provide hilarious insight. Vanderbilt was almost useless last night; I’ve never seen a bigger player fall to the floor when guarding a smaller player than he did when matched up against Murray. My guess is he’s trying to bait the refs and flop his way to get calls. Regardless, the Lakers would have been toast if it weren’t for Rui's torrid start in the first half.

Anthony Davis should be getting shredded by the national media but he is treated with kid gloves. I simply don’t understand how and why he isn’t or hasn’t stepped up to be the Lakers’ undisputed best player at this stage of his career, particularly with an aging LeBron, who still is going strong with his unprecedented sustained longevity. It really does seem like AD checked out and lost some drive in his motor after winning his bubble title in 2020. Davis did miss some good looks he usually makes, but his aggression on the offensive end was nowhere near what he showed in Game 1. I think it may be a safer bet to say that he won’t have a 40-10 game the rest of the series, and that the Lakers squandered some really good chances at winning both games, but especially Game 2.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this series lasts only 4 or 5 games. The Lakers are bound to have one game back home when their role players catch fire, but Denver is just that good to go up 3-1 or 3-0 this series.

The last time James was down 0-2 was in the 2018 ECF vs Boston, but that was Year 15 (age 33) LeBron, who was arguably playing his best statistically playoff run of his career that year. I personally don’t think this Year 20 LBJ can come back from this, considering all the mileage he as at this point.

Regardless, when the Lakers do fold and get ousted, the media will continue to give James and m this squad a moral victory lap of praises for overcoming their 2-10 start, etc. instead of praising the Denver Nuggets for playing the right brand of basketball.

At Friday, May 19, 2023 10:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you!

There is no evidence that Davis has the necessary mentality and physical durability to be the number one option on a championship team.

At Friday, May 19, 2023 12:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Right Brand of Basketball" (whatever that means - such an empty and worthless statement) uses more than 6 players on a regular basis. So much fish in the barrel to shoot at, but that was the closest. The two losses show that while the nuggets may be marginally better, they are better.

At Friday, May 19, 2023 1:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Role players did they job David

3 through 7 on Lakers

Lonnie walker

Scored 123 points

The role players on Denver 3-7

Jeff green

110 points in first 2 games

Bron and ad

106 points

Joker and Murray

125 points

U lost by 5 and 6

Both losers on Bron and game 2 Bron and ad share blame

Murray and joker can't out play ad and Bron

And the Lakers win

That simple David

I think this goes the distance

I still like the lakers

At Friday, May 19, 2023 1:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Nuggets play as a team, have no internal or external drama, make no excuses when they lose, and don't whine about not getting respect when they win.

I am not sure how you would define the "right brand of basketball," but by my definition the Nuggets check off every box.

Smart coaches play the players who will help them win and who enjoy individual or collective matchup advantages. Some teams rely on 8-10 players, other teams have shorter rotations. Considering that the Nuggets finished with the best record in the West and are currently leading the vaunted "new look Lakers" 2-0 I would say that Coach Malone has done a good job deciding who to play and who to sit.

At Friday, May 19, 2023 1:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You could have just posted, "David, you were right about the Nuggets and the Lakers, and you were right about the Westbrook trade."

That would have been more concise and more to the point.

At Friday, May 19, 2023 2:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


James is of course 38 and spent a lot of energy defending Jokic (and doing it well) last night. I wonder how much of his chucking from 3 resulted from fatigue rather than the stupidity you claim (which is not much in evidence in his career). He played bully-ball in game one, but I just don't think he can muster that nightly anymore, especially when playing a lot of minutes on Jokic defensively.

Also, while his 3 point shooting was way down for him this season, and not good, 33% also is hardly an abysmal "never-shoot 3s" rate. Not to pick a fight, but it's well above Russell Westbrook's career 3-pt average, for instance, and Russ has taken almost 4 a game throughout his career.

At Friday, May 19, 2023 2:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



Westbrook doesn't help this team

And I didn't expect Murray and joker to outplay Bron and ad this bad

I'm saying that really the difference so far

Murray play been superstar in playoffs

I still like Lakers in series tho

Nuggets are not a good road team

At Friday, May 19, 2023 2:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Is there a lower percentage shot for the Lakers than James shooting a three pointer, particularly considering the opportunity cost that every three pointer he shoots is a possession in which he (1) did not attack the paint, (2) did not draw a foul, (3) is not likely to be in offensive rebounding position, and (4) did not create a shot opportunity for a teammate? A James three pointer is essentially a live ball turnover fueling the opposing team's fastbreak.

I'm not sure what the Clippers' starting point guard has to do with figuring out the Lakers' optimal strategic approach to beating the Nuggets in the WCF, but since you brought it up please note that James attempted 6.9 three point field goals per game during the regular season. Westbrook attempted 4.1 three point field goals per game during his time with the Lakers this regular season. The Lakers relegated Westbrook off of the ball so that James could chase Kareem's scoring record, which worked out well for LeBron but not so well for the team (or Westbrook). The Lakers would have been better off with Westbrook handling the ball and attacking the paint, while James cut to the hoop and Davis posted up. Reaves could have been a spot up shooting threat in that lineup, and the fourth player could have been a defensive player or another shooter (depending on matchups). Of course, if LeBron did not monopolize the ball then he may not have broken the record as quickly, and it would have been more difficult for him to only make passes resulting in assists.

In the 2023 playoffs, James is shooting .233 from three point range. At what point would you suggest that James either stop shooting threes or vastly reduce his number of three point attempts? Are you waiting for James' three point percentage to plunge below .200 before you make that call? Do you believe that the Lakers can beat Denver four times in the next five games with James shooting six or more three pointers each game?

At Friday, May 19, 2023 2:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


With " I didn't expect Murray and joker to outplay Bron and ad this bad" you are getting closer, but "You were right, David" would be even more concise.

It is funny that you believe that two players who Ham does not trust and a "laser" who can't find the hoop are helping the Lakers, but that an athletic point guard who rebounds, pushes the ball, and gets his teammates easy baskets would not be helpful.

Murray is the best, most athletic guard in this series, and it is not even close. Beasley is completely useless in this series, Vanderbilt is mostly useless, and the Lakers hemorrhage more points when the great DLo is on the court than during any other player's minutes.

I know you like the Lakers. It would be fair to say that you love any team featuring LeBron. You did not provide one reason to think that the Lakers will win this series, but I am sure that if the Lakers win game three or game four you will assure everyone that the Lakers "found something" and are on their way to winning the title.

I don't expect a sweep and did not predict one, so I won't be shocked if the Lakers win one game or even two games in L.A. That is the nature of playoff competition. I would be surprised--but not shocked--if the Nuggets sweep. The Nuggets are the better team, so there is a chance that if the Lakers lose game three then Davis and James pack it in for game four. Davis is inconsistent even under the best of circumstances, while James has quit in playoff series before.

At Friday, May 19, 2023 3:03:00 PM, Blogger anon said...

Denver got here by beating two depleted teams - this is their toughest series by far. They had ample time in the regular season to improve their bench but did not. Denver has spent a certain amount of time resting their starters for the playoffs. Several starters got into early foul trouble in game 2, which could have spelled disaster. It's only a matter of time before that happens in this round or the next, and Denver will be exposed.

At Friday, May 19, 2023 3:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Sure, you must be right. After posting the best record in the West and taking a 2-0 WCF lead, the Nuggets are on the verge of being "exposed."

At Friday, May 19, 2023 4:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am not suggesting that 3s from Lebron are *good* shots, as I said, clearly and directly. I would mostly attribute them to fatigue, as I said, clearly and directly.

I mostly wanted to suggest your claim that Lebron was playing stupidly seemed presumptuous in light of possible other explanations. Because your claim that Lebron was playing stupidly was presumptuous in light of other possible explanations (which are not, mind you, exculpatory).

As for his 3-pt percentage, please, do your really want to play that weak small-sample-size game? He shot 33% in the regular season, a much larger sample. In the play-in/playoffs, if you merely exclude the last *two* games, his percentage goes from 23% to 28%. That's still lousy, but the extent to which this stat moves around based on a couple good or bad performances should tell you all you need to know about that sort of cherry picking. But if you want to cherry-pick: Last series, against Memphis, he shot... 33%.

Westbrook is quite relevant, because unless I've missed it, you don't call him stupid for jacking up 3s despite making them at a truly awful 30% for his *career.*

At Friday, May 19, 2023 5:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You were not clear and direct regarding LeBron's three pointers being bad shots. You wrote, "Also, while his 3 point shooting was way down for him this season, and not good, 33% also is hardly an abysmal 'never-shoot 3s' rate."

A fatigued player should sit out for a few minutes to rest, or stay in the game but rest on offense. He should not take bad, low percentage shots. That is not smart basketball. Being fatigued and playing stupidly are not mutually exclusive. I will not speculate about why LeBron took stupid shots. I have seen him take stupid shots when he was younger and clearly not fatigued.

The relevant sample size for this discussion is the 2023 playoffs. LeBron is shooting horrifically from three point range during the playoffs. Should he keep jacking up low percentage shots, or should he attack the paint? That is the relevant question. Further, the evidence from his entire Lakers career shows that the Lakers are only successful when he and Davis attack the paint. James and Davis shooting a high volume of three pointers is a losing recipe.

In general, I criticize many players for shooting too many three pointers, and I criticize teams for relying too heavily on three pointers. I think that Westbrook shoots too many three pointers and I have mentioned this before. I don't dwell on it because other media members hammer away at this point while ignoring all of the positive things that Westbrook does. My role is not only to analyze but also to correct false narratives. It is not a secret that Westbrook should shoot fewer three pointers, so it is not necessary to repeatedly mention it. James is given a free pass for his questionable shot selection, and for his reluctance to attack the paint at key moments. This is particularly relevant regarding the Lakers because the things that James did and failed to do that hurt the Lakers are ignored, while Westbrook's flaws are exaggerated (and often invented out of thin air).

LeBron has a lot of nerve saying that the Lakers need "lasers" when he is essentially the worst three point shooter in the rotation who also shoots the most three pointers. The Lakers could have had better playoff seeding if LeBron had not missed so many games and had not spent so much of the season camped out beyond the arc.

At Friday, May 19, 2023 5:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Lakers are a decent team, but not a great team by any stretch. But, let's not pretend Denver is some great team just because they own the West's best record in a down year, are beating mediocre teams so far in the playoffs, and struggling while they do. Their 3 opps owned 42-40, 45-37, and 43-39 regular season records. Yes, the current Lakers squad is better than their regular season record suggests, but they are by no means much of a contender. Is this the easiest path to the Finals in NBA history. I certainly cannot remember any easier.

Denver should win this series, and most likely will. But, they've literally escaped games 1/2, at home, needing historically great performances in each game so far. This year's Denver team would get trashed by most title teams.

At Friday, May 19, 2023 7:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The Lakers been great since Westbrook trade

In this series it's about guarding Murray that they issue

Westbrook pushing the ball or getting a couple rebounds isn't gonna help

The Lakers had 133 game sample size of Westbrook

He had decent scoring numbers high rebounds, assists, turnovers, and low shooting percentage.

He can't play d or score with Murray

So he worthless in this series

Ad and Bron got to play better

In la

Lakers role players outscored the nuggets in Denver

Bron got to play better in particular

If they do we will win both games

And Denver nuggets need to stop whining about respect

At Friday, May 19, 2023 10:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Who is pretending that Denver is an all-time great team? It is a fact that Denver had the best record in the West, and that Denver enjoys a 2-0 WCF lead. The Nuggets earned the top seed, and with that comes the privilege of playing the eighth seed in the first round, the 4-5 winner in the second round, and whoever survived the other side of the bracket in the WCF.

By the way, plenty of great teams "escaped" in individual playoff games and even in playoff series--but few people remember that, because what matters is whether you win or lose, not by how much you win or how easily you win.

At Friday, May 19, 2023 10:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


There is no prize for being great for part of the season, assuming one buys the premise that the Lakers were great for a stretch. The Lakers needed to win a Play-In Tournament game to make the playoffs, and their playoff record is 8-6, including a 2-0 deficit in the WCF. Do you consider that a great season for a team with two members of the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team?

Westbrook is a career 24.5 ppg playoff scorer who averaged 23.6 ppg in the 2023 playoffs. He has a better chance of keeping pace with Murray from a scoring standpoint than any guard on the Lakers' roster, and his ability to create transition offense would ease the burden on Davis and James.

The 130 (not 133) regular season games that Westbrook played with the Lakers included large stretches without Davis and/or James, and other stretches when Davis and/or James played in a disinterested manner.

Several of the Lakers' role players are unplayable, which is why Ham has benched them or slashed their minutes.

I agree that Davis and James need to play better, but that will be tough for them because Jokic is a better player at this stage of their careers.

As I said, the short version of all this is, "David, you were right about the trade, and you were right about this series."

At Friday, May 19, 2023 11:29:00 PM, Blogger Todd Ash-Duah said...

Jamal Murray is an absolute stud! Great to see him play like this after he had to sit out the last two postseasons with his ACL injury.

David, it's funny that you mention Lebron's poor shot selection because I was mentioning this to my brother while we were watching the game. If LeBron and AD don't play aggressively in the paint, I could the Nuggets sweeping them. But the Lakers are kind of streaky, so I could see them tying the series heading into Game 5, but I just don't see LA winning four out of five against a better, younger team.

At Saturday, May 20, 2023 1:01:00 AM, Anonymous Eric said...

@ first Anonymous

Why don’t you type your name out in these comments instead of hiding staying anonymous? The Nuggets play the right way and have developed their talent internally without jumping on the superteam wave that was prevalent 3-4 years ago. If you can’t comprehend what “playing the right brand of basketball” means, do us all a favor and keep quiet. What’s understood doesn’t need to be explained.


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